On top of my desk I have a book: Ben Yagoda’s WHEN YOU CATCH AN ADJECTIVE, KILL IT! It has become a sort of writer’s bible for me. So, when I sat down to listen to the métier (msv28580) release of The Man Hurdy Gurdy & me with music by Howard Skempton, I was struck by the work of this English iconoclast, and following that by my utter inability to come up with words to describe my reaction.

I needed not dig for negatives. I got hooked from track 1 through track 14, waiting to hear what this musical maverick next had up his wizardly sleeve. I mean the man plays with sound the way a kid plays with favorite toys, assembling the unlikeliest of instrumental companions in unpredictable groupings. Forget traditional structures – there are none in this music. Harmony..? Yes, actually. Very consonant. Contrapuntal rigidity..? Nope. Melody..? Well, yes, but not your recognizable kind. When he pairs the marvelously malleable soprano Sara Stowe with a gamelan ensemble one quickly comes to understand Debussy’s reaction to the Balinese orchestra he heard back in the day at the time of the Paris World Fair of 1889.

But for Goodness’ sake do not for a minute think of Skempton as being another musical prankster along the lines of John Cage. No. This is seriously fun music, as entertaining as it is complex in its sonorities and its devil-may-care approach to instrumentation. I mean would you EVER pair a hurdy-gurdy with percussion, oboe, flute and keyboard? Some chamber music!

The multi-lingual liner notes shun reverence and musicological gobbledygook in three languages, focusing instead on the facts. The ensemble in charge of these giddy proceedings is named Sirinu ( and they take on their multi-instrumental tasks with enthusiasm and accuracy.

If I were you I’d check them out just to hear what’s happening with new music on the other side of the pond and outside of Academia. You just might enjoy it as much as I did:

Rafael de Acha